Former MSBC speakers shine in business roles during PyeongChang Olympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics recently concluded in Pyeongchang, wrapping up the efforts of hundreds of gifted athletes and professionals in the sport business industry. Multiple former speakers at the Michigan Sport Business Conference left a large footprint on the proceedings, making their presence felt everywhere from TV production to marketing to the International Olympic Committee.

Gary Zenkel, President, NBC Olympics and Business, NBC Sports Group

Gary Zenkel spoke at the MSBC in 2013, participating in a panel called “The Global Reach of Sport.” Since 2013, Zenkel has continued to establish the future of NBC Olympics, securing Olympic broadcasting rights for NBC Universal through 2032, the longest U.S. media rights deal in Olympics history. In 2017, Zenkel became President of Business, where, in addition to his Olympics duties, he is in charge of strategy and operations for NBC Sports.

The 2018 Pyeongchang Games marked Zenkel’s 12th Olympics at NBC. For this year’s games, NBC sought to expand its reach beyond traditional viewing channels, partnering with outside companies such as Snapchat and Intersection to further immerse consumers in the Olympics. Through the first seven days of the Olympics, over 35 million unique users watched Olympic content on Snapchat. In addition to growing viewership on Snapchat, NBC was able to reach commuters in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia by partnering with Intersection, a New York-based firm that creates digital displays in U.S. cities. NBC used these digital displays to broadcast highlights, medal counts and athlete profiles, creating a new way to increase consumer interest in the Olympic Games. Zenkel’s efforts improved the commercial success of the games by engaging younger viewers and increasing the reach of NBC’s programming.

Kate Johnson, Vice President, Global Sponsorship Marketing, Visa Inc.

Kate Johnson spoke at last year’s MSBC, bringing her valuable insight to the “Sports Events & Hospitality: Elevating the Brand Experience” breakout session. Johnson’s experience with the Olympic Games stretches back to 2004 in Athens, where she won a silver medal in the Women’s eight rowing event. Since then, she has continued her involvement with the Olympics, first as an IMG consultant handling Olympic advertising for firms such as GE and then as a marketing executive for Visa.

At Visa, Johnson is in charge of the firm’s vast sponsorship portfolio, which includes all global Olympics rights. The 2018 Olympic Games featured some of Visa’s most innovative marketing techniques yet, including the distribution of commemorative pins and stickers that enabled Olympic spectators and athletes to make quick payments at over 1,000 touch-free payment terminals. Along with product placement, Johnson’s company also focused on player sponsorships, compiling a team of 54 athletes to star in advertisements and represent the Visa brand during the Olympics. Johnson’s expertise allowed Visa to continue its dominance as one of the most recognizable brands at the Games.

Angela Ruggiero, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Sports Innovation Lab & Executive Board Member, International Olympic Committee

Angela Ruggiero shared insights from her experience managing the Sports Innovation Lab at the MSBC last year, speaking on the panel “Technology & Innovation: Optimizing Athlete Performance.” Like Johnson, Ruggiero also competed in the Olympics. She was a member of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team from 1998 through 2010, earning a gold medal in 1998, a silver in 2002 and 2010 and a bronze in 2006. After her playing career, Ruggiero was elected to the IOC Athletes’ Commission in 2010. In this role, she utilized her business skills to professionalize the commission and her influence quickly spread throughout the USOC and IOC.

Throughout her time as a member of the IOC, Ruggiero played a direct role in the 2018 Olympics. She initially made an impact by serving on the Bid Evaluation Commission that selected PyeongChang and later ensured that events ran smoothly as a member of the Coordination Commission for this year’s Olympics. During the Olympic Games last month, Ruggiero played an important role in representing athletes by working to push their interests, even in tricky cases such as the Russian doping scandal. In order to handle the doping issue, she took multiple viewpoints into consideration in order to represent global opinions. She also used her platform to praise the joint Korean women’s ice hockey team, suggesting they win the Nobel Peace Prize due to the sacrifices they had to make and the global impact of their unity. At the end of the Olympics, Ruggiero had the honor of awarding the U.S. women’s hockey team their gold medals, a fitting reward for the positive impact she has had on USA Hockey and the Olympics as a whole.

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